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Trip Report – Alberta’s Forestry Trunk Road

Sunrise over rocky mountains alberta

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I’d been looking forward to a fishing trip to the mountains when, at the last minute, my fishing partner had to cancel. This left me with my bags packed and a blank slate for a weekend. I certainly wasn’t going to stay home, so I decided I would take a solo road trip and hit some of the best late summer lakes in the province. 

As luck would have it, the Thursday before my trip was the monthly meetup with my local Kayak Fishing Club. I met the crew early in the evening and as I fished and chatted with friends from our socially distant kayaks, my friend and fellow AQ Ambassador, Trevor, casually mentioned to me that tonight was the kickoff of his solo weekend fishing trip into the mountains. “Really?” I said, “I happen to also be heading on a solo fishing trip. Maybe we could go solo, together?”

Kayak fishing at sunset
The Gang at the monthly group meetup.

So, at 10:30 pm, Thursday night, Trevor showed me his first stop on the map and our last-minute adventure began. Trevor already had his bags packed and from our meetup went on to the first spot. I still had to get home, sleep, and throw my things in the truck to set off in the morning. So, even though my stuff was prepped, I was already 8 hrs behind him.

Day 1:

On Friday morning, with the truck fuelled up and coffee in hand, I pointed the compass west. I’ve never driven down highway 40, the Forestry Trunk Road, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into. There has always been rumours surrounding highway 40 as nasty four-wheel drive trails, slick mud in the rain and long slogs of rough gravel. But, I’ve driven my share of gravel over the years and the weather had been dry the last few days, so I was confident the road would be fine, if not quite dusty.

I rolled into parking lot of our first spot at 1 o’clock, just as Trevor was about to give up on me. He’d already been fishing for almost 8 hours and was ready for a break. Unfortunately, logging trucks and washboard roads made the drive quite a bit longer than expected. Next time I’ll know better.

It didn’t take much to convince him to stay for a few more hours because he was catching some quality cutthroat trout. After hearing his recount of the morning bite and the fish he already caught, I was brimming with jealously and ready to hit the water. Trout may be my favorite species to fish for, and now I was standing on the shore of a quality cutthroat lake.

My first cutthroat also happens to be a pretty solid PB!

As it can be with fishing, the afternoon was a grind. However, I did manage to net my first cutthroat while stripping a leech on a sink tip fly line. By late afternoon it was time to move on to a new lake. We packed up the boats quickly and started the drive north up highway 40.

One of the best reasons to have a kayak is how packable they are. The next lake we stopped at had a short 400 yard hike from the parking lot to the water. We were able to easily load up our kayaks with all our gear, put them on carts and tow them to the water. The lake was beautiful but ended up being a bust. The evening was calm and water was so clear we could easily see 20′ to the bottom. But on the glass like lake I’m sure the trout could see us coming for miles and kept very clear of our hooks. Still, it was a great evening. We packed up at dusk and make the short drive over to lake #3.

Those that know me know I have a few dogs and the back seat is usually full of kennels. To support the kennels I built a flat platform the width of the back seat and on this trip I found out it also makes a great place to lay out an air mattress and sleeping bag. I can’t say I’ve ever slept as comfortably in the back of my truck as I did after a full day of kayak fishing.

Day 2:

Since we were sleeping in our trucks, it was very convenient to park them beside the lake the night before and wake up ready to fish. We were up at 6 am, and as Trevor unpacked his kayak and gear, I prioritized making coffee and having some breakfast.

I can’t say the morning bite was on at any time on this lake. We were after rainbow trout this time and again, I had a hard time even buying a bite. Similar to the day before, we could see trout rising all around us but they were not interested in what we had to offer. I missed one opportunity while soaking some chironomids under and indicator but finally hooked up on a small rainbow while trolling a small crankbait. Still, it was a really nice morning.

Once we’d had enough of catching young trout we decided to pack up and do a little stream fishing. Although the reason for our journey was to kayak fish, I haven’t spent much time fishing moving water so I was pretty excited to give it a try.

A paved highway was a pleasant surprise after a few hundred kilometers of dusty gravel roads.

Further north along the highway we ran into a small creek that was open for fishing. As I donned the waders and boots, Trevor had another trick up his sleeve. In addition to the kayak he also brought a stand up paddle board (SUP). It made for quite a sight, but since we are both competing in the Freshwater Summer Slam he did have the advantage.

After fishing the stream for a while I walked back to the truck empty handed. I did have a shot at a small fish that took a hopper but I was early on the hook set and scared him off. I also sacrificed a number of flies to the bushes and bramble along the banks, since I’m primarily a stillwater fly fisher this was a fairly new experience for me!

The next lake on the list was couple hours drive north. Once my gear was packed I bounced happily up the road towards a brand new species of trout for me. The drive up was long, the gravel logging roads were in fair shape but the last stretch to the lake had me questioning my off-road prowess. I pulled up to the final trail to the lake only to find it very washed out. Not being prepared to get stuck I decided I would walk trail and get a feel for what I would be getting the ole’ truck into. The first section was muddy and rutted, but looked used fairly recently. The second section was a steep downhill grade and half the trail was washed out from the rain. Definitely not something to be taken lightly, especially since I don’t have locking diffs. Once down at the lake I found some folks in a small tinner having a great time fishing across the lake. They managed to pull the boat down the trail using an ATV. As I watched, I could hear them hollering and cheering every few minutes with another fish on. I’ve come so far, I need to get down this trail.

I got out once to take a picture of the mud but this was really the tamest section of the trail. The next bit had me dragging the running boards!

Once at the shore I quickly launched so I could get in on the action. The sun was already low, only giving me a couple hours fish. I put on my trusty Rapala crankbait and began trolling around the lake. Within minutes I had my first fish, a small stocked brook trout.

In fact, I caught so many small brookies I kind of lost count. Most of them were under 10″, I find small trout are eager to take on any lure with a lot of action and the brook trout were no exception today. The water in this lake again was very clear and I did see a real tank brookie follow my lure in, only to refuse once he was close enough. Closer to dark, the other boat on the lake packed up and make the trek out. I had been thinking of what I would do tonight, my original plan was to camp out at the lake and leave in the morning, but seeing how bad the road was coming in I wasn’t sure I’d risk any more rain making the road worse. With just enough light to see ahead I packed up and inched my way up the steep trail.

Day 3:

I had another fantastic sleep in the back of the truck but this time there was one small issue. Since I can’t stretch out at night my knees were pretty stiff in the morning, but a quick walk after breakfast solved most of my issues.

It may be a bit cramped, but there’s no place like camp.

One more lake to try and then it’s time to head home. I heard from a friend that there was a lake on my way home that held monster pike and I’ve been itching to try it for a long time. Since I was again up with the sun I had plenty of time to make one more stop.

Once on the water I tied on a big 6″ paddle tail and began to troll it around while using side imaging to find likely structure. Not 20 minutes in to fishing I spotted a whitefish surfacing only a hundred yards away from me. Forget pike, we have a new plan. I’m always packing whitefish hooks since I’ve been after them for almost two years. They have been so elusive, so every time I come across one I pretty much drop everything else.

At first I tried throwing some small 1/16th ounce jigs on a light action rod, then small spoons, then small spinners. After an hour of no luck I went back to the truck for a fly rod. Not knowing how long this bite window would last it pained me to make a trip back and forth but I saw no other option. Finally, fly rod in hand, I tied on a goddard caddis with a prince nymph dropper. On my first cast the water swirled up and right as I set the hook I could see the fish missed it. Or did I miss it? Either way, that was my only chance. As the morning turned into afternoon my bite window closed and I had to pedal back to shore with my tail tucked.

Homeward Bound

Even though I wish I had a bit more success catching fish I had a great time on this trip. The views were fantastic, the weather was perfect and although the road was rough in spots, it was very drive-able and certainly nothing the ole’ pickup couldn’t handle. Initially, I was happy to go solo but to have an opportunity to fish with someone who knows the area adds some depth and camaraderie that would have otherwise been missing.

2 thoughts on “Trip Report – Alberta’s Forestry Trunk Road”

  1. so you went north on hiway 40 from Hinton ?? you should plan a trip south , although it will be more stram fishing than kayak fishing

    1. We explored south of Hinton for the most part but I did go north for the Brookies; if you know, you know! Travelling south and wading some streams is definitely on my to do list, even going up and fly fishing the Grande Cache area would be excellent. Summer is far too short and there are a lot of fish to catch! Thanks for the comment, Jim!

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